Review: Freedom Quartet-Hymns of Faith and Freedom.

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Here before me laid the latest recording of Freedom Quartet that’s entitled ‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’. A collection of some well-known hymns and convention type songs. There’s one hymn on the entire album I never had heard before, and probably for a good reason, but I’ll get to that later.

Let me walk you through the album, one song at the time.

The first song is a song written by Johnson Oatman Jr. who wrote ‘Count Your Blessings, ‘No Not One’ ‘Higher Ground’ and many more songs. I believe The Kingdom Heirs did this, as did The Inspirations and I’m sure a bunch of others did. Gerald Wolfe, who plays on this entire project, plays in a convention type of style. This song shows the strength of the Quartet they’ve got that high clear tenor, that booming bass, a smooth baritone and a lead with a thick vibrato that most ‘music people’ would frown upon….but I don’t!  I wouldn’t have it any other way! Dale Shipley is what gives this tremendous Quartet that unique sound, like James Blackwood gave the Blackwood Brothers Qt. In my mother tongue Frisian we call that ‘ âljen’. Which freely translates into ‘wailing’. Great song, executed with only piano, as is the case on this entire album. Just the voices of four terrific singers and a piano.

Scott Mullins their new baritone sings the ever beautiful as is the ‘No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus’ written by Charles Weigle in 1932. What can I say about this song? It’s one of my all time favorite songs, and Scott Mullins has a fantastic voice, very smooth and soothing. Great range,  diction and tone! The verses are all his, and he rises to the occasion, and is complemented in the chorus by the rest of the guys…..wow. Again all framed by Gerald Wolfe’s classy playing.

Vep Ellis wrote ‘I Know he Heard My prayer’ which is my favorite Ellis composition.  I heard The Statesmen Quartet sing it on the RCA Victor album ‘The Statesmen Sing with Hovie Lister’ (LPM1605) which was the best Southern Gospel album ever made by anyone! I can not tell you how impressed I am with this cut! Burman Porter kills his bass verses, John is the most convincing authentic Southern Gospel tenor alive today! And that subtle twist at the ending is why I love this kind of music. Dale Shipley is in the blend and sings pretty high up there, and again that gentleman gives this group that signature sound, just like he did with Perfect Heart in the early 90’s. Again a salute to Gerald Wolfe, who like Stan Whitmire knows this music, and plays it well! Fantastic!

Another Vep Ellis convention classic “I’m Free Again”. Burman tears it up once again….this is probably my favorite version today! You got to hear it to believe it! But Burman proves that he’s one of the best bass singers that ever walked! He’s amazing!

First time I ever heard this next song it was on an old album by the Blackwood Brothers Quartet and as often is the case with having that unique experience of hearing a song for the first time, it usually remains your favorite rendition for a long time, if not forever. This arrangement is slighty different from the Blackwood’s cut, in the respect that the Blackwood’s alternated the lead more. James sang leads, as did all the others in the group. Freedom Quartet gave the reigns on this song to Dale Shipley who sounds a lot like James Blackwood on this, while still being unmistakably good old Dale! Dale’s voice with Wolfe’s playing is like heaven  on earth to a Quartet guy like me. The song is ‘In Times Like These’. One of those songs that beg to be sung along with….at least to me it is constantly begging.  I remember being with my good friend Chip Davis a while ago, and we listened to some of his old Gospel records by the Rambo’s and The Blackwood Brothers and others. And although he didn’t play ‘In Times Like These’  I remember thinking of “In Times Like These” when he played the Blackwood’s record which I didn’t mention it to him. A few moments later  we went up to his studio upstairs, Chip sat at his piano and started playing ‘In Times Like These’ talking about kindred spirits! Chip played and sang and I sang the harmony parts, those are moments to cherish and which deepened my love for this song! I love, absolutely love this song! Great job Dale! you did it like it’s supposed to be sung, with great vigor and conviction!

‘He’ll Pilot Me’ by Charles T.Bailey is a John Rulapaugh showcase! You’ll be transported to times of yesteryear instantly. Every Quartet did this one back in the day! Man, what a great Quartet this is.

Frederick Lehman’s ‘The Love of God’ is lyrically the most beautiful song ever written. This rendition is superb…wonderful opening verse by Scott Mullins. Scott Mullins has a fantastic tone, Gerald Wolfe’s playing can be described in many ways….but the best way to say it is that he is a true accompanist! He doesn’t try to showcase his talents with hot licks or other fancy stuff, instead he plays with great finesse and leaves ‘room’ for the singers.

Elisha Hofmann wrote my favorite song on this album. Hofmann wrote ‘Leaning On The Ever Lasting Arms’, I Must Tell Jesus’ and many others. I never heard this song before! It’s entitled ‘Is Your All On The Altar’. This piece of music, and the lyrics moved me literally to tears! When after a brief piano introduction John Rulapaugh sang these opening lines I got an answer directly from God on questions that I had.  Questions why all the difficulties, struggles, and unrest I experienced lately were happening to me. These are the words that slayed me……

“You have longed for sweet peace, and your faith to increase.

And have earnestly, fervently prayed;

But you cannot have rest,

Or  be perfectly blest,

Until all on the altar is laid”

And that’s what I needed to hear, and I knew the truth to those words. I knew there are certain things that stand between me and my Father. This like substance abuse, anger, impatience and general discontent. I suddenly realised that my prayers  were nothing more than rhetorical questions! And God knows a rhetorical question when He hears one! Yet He answered in a gentle manner and used His vessel John Rulapaugh and his God-given talent to deliver it to me! Thank you Lord, and thank you John!

James Rowe (‘Love Lifted Me’) wrote the hymn ‘I’m Going that Way’ with L.B.Register  (‘I’ve Heard of a Land of Joy and Peace and Wonderful Light’). Dale Shipley sings this convention type of song like none other, his solo verse is fantastic! Burman Porter sings some great slurring bass lines on this incredible uplifting tune! Quartet singing in optima forma!

Next is ‘Send The Light’ like the song before an uplifting convention type tune. Written by Charles H.Gabriel in 1890  while Gabriel was music director of the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California. I’m lost for words, there’s not enough superlatives to describe the classy solid sound these guys have. Wonderful song!

Stuart Hamblen is one of the finest introspective writers that ever walked! He wrote a lot of songs, songs like ‘These things Shall Pass’, ‘This Ole House’, ‘It is No Secret‘ and many more. Hamblen also wrote this classic gospel song entitled ‘Until Then’. First time I heard this song was 40 years ago on a live bootleg album by Elvis Presley  where the Stamps Quartet sang it. On that album it was listed as “God Calls Me Home”. It was just the chorus they sang, and in very poor audio, but I loved it regardless. I love the lyrics, but the structure of the chorus is what I really dig about this tune! I feel an irresistible urge to sing along! Dale Shipley sings the verse….what can I say? Dale is Southern Gospel personified!

The album closes with ‘America The Beautiful’. This is probably my favorite rendition ever! Though I am not an American citizen, I’ve always felt connected to that great country and it’s people, and I almost stood up with my hand over my heart, but decided against it cause it’s very hard to type that way!

In closing; I know the National Quartet Convention is starting Sept 25th. And all you Southern Gospel lovers are going to hear and see your favorite artists, and have your pictures taken with them. But if you consider yourself a Southern Gospel lover, and you don’t visit these guys product table and pick up a copy of this album you’re a Southern Gospel nut! I expect ‘breaking news’ from the NQC stating that the album is SOLD OUT!!! I expect long lines!  This Quartet along with Southern Sound Quartet are the best on the road today!

If you’re sick of the overly compressed, lifeless recordings, most of the Southern Gospel Quartets crank out these days go and buy this one!  If you’re tired of albums that only deserve the ‘death by production’ label …buy this one!

Auke Bijlsma

 

 

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